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I haven’t exactly been keeping up with Anaal Nathrakh. Sure, I’ve heard a track here and there over the years, but the last time I actually listened to a full album was 2004′s Domine Non Es Dignus. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested in the band, in fact quite the contrary, I absolutely loved the balls-to-the-fucking-wall slab of filth-grinding extremity that was The Codex Necro, and the aforementioned Domine… received a glowing review from yours truly when I was writing for my college paper. But the way Mick Kenney and Dave Hunt continuously crank out albums, especially when the music is so patently assaultive, is extremely overwhelming; I have a hard enough time keeping up with metal as it is. So, here I am revisiting Anaal Nathrakh with Vanitas after missing four full lengths, and damn it feels good to be back.
Anaal Nathrakh’s mash-up of black metal, grindcore and industrial/electronic music is surely one of the most unique approaches in metal; granted they aren’t the first to do industrial black metal, but they are without question one of the best, if Vanitas is anything to go by. Being that I haven’t heard the immediately preceding albums, I can’t say how it stacks up against them, but I can say that Anaal Nathrakh have certainly refined and sharpened their attack since the last time I fully immersed myself in their world of grime. Whereas The Codex Necro was impressive but felt a little one-dimensional after a few listens and Domine Non Es Dignus felt like an ambitious transitional album, Vanitas sounds like a band that is at last comfortable in their own skin.
To say that Anaal Nathrakh have become accessible isn’t exactly accurate, but the tracks on Vanitas each possess their own distinct character, and some of them are downright catchy. Vocalist Dave Hunt continues to wield some of the most sickening death-vomit vox I’ve ever heard, but there are also quite a few moments where you can actually understand what he’s saying, and his Ihsahn/King Diamond-esque clean singing has obviously only gotten better over the intervening years since I last checked in with the band. In fact, he might be one of the most versatile vocalists in modern black metal. Mick Kenney, who is responsible for guitar, bass and drum programming, continues to pull from a wide range of influences, setting Anaal Nathrakh apart from other drum machine-driven black metal hordes. His guitar-work is impeccable, whether busting out slow, grinding riffs, hyper-blasting tremolo or mosh-inciting chug; the guy knows how to make heads bang and can also shred with the best of them. Hunt and Kenney compliment each other so perfectly at this point that it’s practically frightening.
Don’t let the previous paragraph lead you to believe that Anaal Nathrakh have lost any of the ferocity they exhibited in their early days; Vanitas still finds the band setting things to liquefy at all times. Hunt and Kenney do manage to let off the gas and give that undoubtedly overheated drum machine a rest from time to time, but they still sound like they want to beat you down to the fucking ground and put their boots on your throat. Guitars slice and slash, inhuman drums pummel relentlessly and vocals spew hydrochloric acid. Indeed Anaal Nathrakh dominates with overwhelming intensity and force, the musical equivalent of a curb-stomp. At the same time, there is something epic about Vanitas; Anaal Nathrakh may be filthy, but their compositional sense is far more reminiscent of Emperor than Darkthrone.
As much as I’m enjoying this, it appears I have my work cut out for me going back through Anaal Nathrakh’s back catalogue. In the meantime though, Vanitas is one hell of a satisfying album, a glorious clusterfuck of blackened grinding electro-insanity that almost makes you wish the world was going to end this month, so you could blast the living shit out of it while awaiting total annihilation. I can’t think of a better soundtrack.
Originally written for That's How Kids Die.com
"Vanitas" proves Anaal Nathrakh is THE extreme metal band. It's not their best album, but I still lost a layer of my skin listening to Anaal Nathrakh as they continue running this monstrous god-slaughtering machine of a band over everything in existence. The greatest part about "Vanitas" is its intensity; something Anaal Nathrakh drones have come to cherish. Dave Hunt and Mick Kenney ( or V.I.T.R.I.O.L. and Irrumator if you’re still following their pseudonyms) utilize just a few tools to create the diabolical black metal/grindcore hybrid that's present throughout "Vanitas," and it really isn't much different in terms of musicality than 2011's "Passion." However, "Vanitas" sticks with better efficiency and generally sounds and flows like an improved record. Not to imply "Passion" was a decline in any matter, mind you; Anaal Nathrakh has always been a very consistent project.
"Vanitas" is a lot more modern and structured than the raw black metal origins of Anaal Nathrakh's uprising, so don't expect a cloned "The Codex Necro." It's actually really interesting to hear chorus-based anthems like "Forging Towards the Sunset" and the general acceptance of—I'm using this loosely—modernized musical styles. Of course, that's not to suggest this is tame or a cop-out, because Anaal Nathrakh sounds like it's going to claw out your eyes and send you to Hell. Kenney's endless arsenal of bone-shattering guitar work is unapologetically pulverizing and hot; tons of noteworthy riffs all over the place. Percussion elements are often blast-laden and equally intense, with an abundance of fast-paced tempos and the frequent dip into hammering mid-paced patterns. "Vanitas" minces auditory matter into nothingness; it's still an Anaal Nathrakh record that vomits fire and blood all over your face.
I feel the album’s finer moments are found in songs with strong choruses: "Forging Towards the Sunset," "Of Fire, and Fucking Pigs," and the awesomely titled "You Can't Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying" are masterfully written anthems, totally addictive and splintering. Is it coincidence that the aforementioned tunes also have the most impressible riffs? Don't know, don't care; great things come in packages, or in this case, body bags. David Hunt's voice here is just nuts. He shrieks, shouts, gurgles, howls, sings and regurgitates a multitude of insane tenors around every corner, and he's easily one of the finer dudes in the business. His lyrics are equally compelling, with such exquisite contributions like "GAAAIEEEUEIIUE GUAAAUIIEEUUGAHHH" and "AHHH! WWWWWWAAAAAHHHHHHH! GUAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!"
Only kidding. Hunt's throat is largely indecipherable as usual, but you can make out some of the blurry blasphemy if you pay close attention, and it's pretty cool stuff. Anaal Nathrakh is just a swell band in general. They don't screw around, but they've included industrial traits and modern influences that actually benefit their genetics; quite the contrary of one Morbid Angel and their touchy output that was, unfortunately, 2-Xtreme. While other bands pretend to be extreme, Anaal Nathrakh IS the poster child of extreme. "Vanitas" is as riotous and flammable as they come, and it further gives testament to the blazing path of unrelenting chaos birthed from the womb of Anaal Nathrakh. I'm personally more inclined to whip out "The Codex Necro," but I'm still drooling over "Vanitas" because ravenous, bloodthirsty violence is truly a beautiful thing.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
I'd hate to think of Birmingham's Anaal Nathrakh as a band that could ever stagnate. They've brought such intense moments into my life, from the utter annihilation of their debut The Codex Necro through the more melodic, mutated songwriting they achieved with In the Constellation of the Black Widow. This was once one of the most hopeful voices (or more accurately, barrages of sickened voices) in the spectrum of 'new extremity' that dawned with the 21st century, and their ability to mash up black, death, grind, noise and even some power-violence or extreme d-beat hardcore aesthetics has afforded them a level of nuance and creativity not too common in any of the parent genres. So then, why is Vanitas the least impressive album they've produced in years?
Simply put: because it's more or less a rerun of its two predecessors. Passion was hardly a record of heavy risk-taking itself, and merely a slightly better overall tweaking of Constellation, but this latest outing really seems to be scraping the bottom of the bone-mill in terms of its riffing selection. There are still a handful of moments in which the band flexes its knack for experimentation, like the techno drum breakdown in "To Spite the Face" or the nearly djent-ish, dirty grooves pummeling through the heart of "You Can't Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying", but for the most part it 'plays it safe' with the streaming, tremolo savagery of post-millenial black metal they've been pursuing since the start. The duo excels at creating texture within their riffs, with a bright tone that lends itself well to both the sinistry and higher pitched, melodic phrasing, and they slather this with enough of their grunts, snarls and decaying screams that they certainly haven't lost that sense of tension; but for Anaal Nathrakh, it just seems like old hat, and not a particular fancy one you'd want to wear out at night while clubbin'.
Variation and competence aren't the issues here. Tracks like "A Metaphor for the Dead" and its howling, atmospheric vocals ensure us that the band are still messing with tempos, and have no interest in bombarding us with endless cycles of the same blast beats and stormy guitar progressions. But even there, much of the chugging groove is just too redolent of a thousand other metalcore-styled breakdowns that quickly pass from the memory; and this isn't the only instance on Vanitas, where often some brazen assault will be followed up with a banal palm muted passage that fails to impress beyond how it contrasts the surge. The programming of the drums is still quite intense without being intrusive, and Anaal are one of the best bands at handling this with an industrial sheen that never seems to overt or distracting for the conservative black metal audience. Not that it's ever been the highlight of their sound, but the bass lines here are quite indistinct, and the vocals seem redundant with those used on better Constellation tracks, only less catchy.
There are still plenty of things to admire about the duo, in particular the abusive poetry of their lyrics, which has a lot more in common with modern grind and artcore than traditional black metal and thus has more of a direct relevance to the cross-pollinated audience. Though my enjoyment of Vanitas has steadily diminished since I picked it up earlier in the Fall, I can't say it's because they lack energy and enthusiasm. This is voracious, frenzied music which continues to bastardize numerous niches into a contemporary fist-fight, but each time I listen through I feel like the songs pass on by without much lasting impact. First one, then another, and by the time a few memorable spikes of riffing arrive I'm already well deep into the 38 minute playtime. Hard to believe, yet this is a case of being 'overwhelming' and 'underwhelming' simultaneously. A flood of hostile songs that fail to stick. Not the first time I've felt the latter reaction towards an Anaal Nathrakh disc (their 2004 and 2007 albums also left me wanting), and I think this pretty much provides a 'conclusion' to the sound they've explored over the past few years. Looking forward to the next evolution.
When it comes to rough and violent black metal, you can easily take your pick of the thousands of bands in the style playing anti-religious or war infused riffs to evoke tempered feelings and head banging. When the duo Anaal Nathrakh (consisting of V.I.T.R.I.O.L on vocals and Irrumator on everything else) began, their style on the debut (The Codex Necro) leaned heavily towards that regular, riff-based kind of aggressive black metal, somewhat along the lines of what bands like Watain, newer Mayhem and Gorgoroth were doing in the post-second wave of black metal. So while The Codex Necro was fine by its own merits, Anaal Nathrakh knew their brand of raw black metal needed a pick me up, and so, in 2004 on their sophomore, Domine Non Es Dignus, the duo started sprinkling grindcore elements into their music to create the unique brand of violent black metal, which they continue to play to this day on Venitas.
As I mentioned this is pretty violent black metal, what with grindcore in the shotgun on this one. While black metal on its own can be quite intimidating, here it’s grindcore’s trademarks such as sonic blast beats, slithering, indecipherable barks and screeches, riffs that ignore any rule of melody or speed, and heavy, low-end tremolo picking (bringing out the punch in the more thin, trebly aspect of the black metal elements, sometime even verging more on death metal) that does most of the hard, heavy work. The points in which the two work together are devastating, with their ominous, sinister black metal riffing hitting light speed, hacking and slashing the listener with it’s trebly, rusty tones, and the grindcore heavy low-ends and robotic drumming matching it, one can witness the true extent of the monster these men have made. Although I’m astounded at how coherently the more violent bits were, as I would assume such cacophony would be but a mess of white noise, but instead, ended up coming through.
With all this talk of violence, I should let you know that Anaal Nathrakh knows they can’t just focus on pure, physicality. If anything, I’d say the band’s strongest point are their more melodic aspects that, while still plenty violent at times, really cut through the stress and pulls the listener directly to them. With soaring choruses that utilize VITRIOLS amazing, opera-esque voice, the choruses that are created are actually really well defined, and give songs like Forging Towards the Sunset, In Coelo Quies, You Can’t Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying and A Metaphor for the Dead,a perfect balance of heaviness and extremely catchy melody, making them extremely memorable. And finally, in the middle ground, the band has absolutely perfected it’s ominous, evil passages, not only in the trebly, cold riffing they owe to their Mayhem influence, but also in the well written lead work which utilizes dual leads (and anti-leads, if you want to call them that) to twist and curdle your mind. The grand, opera vocal work also helps to evoke the feelings of a twisted, Italian opera singer commanding the ravages of hell to, uh, ravage like on the tracks The Blood-Dimmed tide, To Spite the face and Todos somos Humanos.
The only place I can really find the inconsistencies in this bands riffing are with the odd Meshuggah-influences that have an odd moment of spotlight (again, the opening of To Spite The Face) with syncopated, groovy riffs and bombastic breakdowns showing up from time to time. I guess they’re not bad, but just sort of random, and sort of a step towards the exact opposite of the two genres that make up this record. Another odd tidbit I found on this record were the rare moments where industrial elements would be pushed through, such as purposeful, robotic clipping, or blasted, rubber toned sounding drum beats, which were clearly done via programming found on songs like To Spite The Face. From what I know, these bits have been here and there on past releases, but have somewhat diminished here on Venitas, which I’d argue is for the better; but a blackened industrial grindcore just sounds way to weird for me.
For a combination of genre’s that are both synonymous for the words noisy, cluttered and low-fi, Venitas actually does a great job of keeping the chaos controlled. While it’s still a cacophony, one can still hear everything in perfect conjunction, the black metal gets to keep its thin, cold, scratchy riffs and grind keeps the low ends and brutal rhythms, as neither cancel out in the mix. I’m not sure who did the engineering and sound, but whoever did must be one hell of a wizard. Most of the moods on this record range from sinister, violent, triumphant, stressful and foreboding, mixing together some of the key atmospheric elements of the Norwegian reign, such as the cold and eerier atmosphere of the slower and cleaner parts as well as the more supernatural kind of feelings one doesn’t find in grindcore.
While fans of Anaal Nathrakh were somewhat disappointed in the mildly watered down nature of last year’s Passion, I think a rekindling of everything that makes this band great can be found on Vanitas. It’s not only violent, evil, ominous and energetic, but it’s melodic, catchy and memorable. While the band is clearly rooted in black metal territory, the interesting and creative grindcore elements on this record have surely cemented Anaal Nathrakh with some of the greatest in the UK extreme scene, along with bands like Napalm Death and Carcass; not only do they create something unique, but they also have the pure creative staying power to sustain it.
(Originally written for AXIS OF METAL as Adam Korchok http://axisofmetal.com/2012/11/anaal-nathrakh-venitas-review/)
If I were to sum this up in one sentence I would say "It's another Anaal Nathrakh album". At this point you already know what to expect. Punishing dissonant blackened grindcore. Anaal Nathrakh have never delivered anything less, and truly they have delivered here. This album to me is a mix of old school "Codex Necro" Nathrakh right up to the newer "Constellation"/"Passion" era stuff.
Dave Hunt is still one of the best vocalists in extreme metal, switching between throat shredding black metal shrieks, guttural gurgles and grunts and melodic clean singing at the drop of a hat. Such a range is unparalleled and Hunt makes sure to show exactly what he can do on this album, showing off his talents most effectively on closer "A Metaphor For The Dead". He still doesn't publish his lyrics and most of them are as difficult to decipher as ever, but from the song titles you can tell it's still the same misanthropic themes as usual.
Mick Kenney, the sole instrumentalist, performs exactly what you've come to expect and then some. Powerful and memorable tremolo riffs, insanely fast blast beats and melodic leads in a few places. "In Coelo Quies, Tout Finis Ici Bas" contains a solo which I believe was performed by someone in Bleeding Through, a band i'll admit to not liking very much. An odd guest spot for this kind of album, perhaps, but it was a good choice because the solo fits into the song perfectly and makes it a highlight of the album. The band also make a brief return to their industrial roots on a few songs with Berzerker-esque drums found on "Todos Somos Humanos".
If you're already a fan then you should enjoy this album as much as I do. Anaal Nathrakh are as misanthropic, apocalyptic and enjoyable as ever. This comfortably fits into my top albums of the year and is even giving "In the Constellation..." a run for its money for the title of "Best Anaal Nathrakh Album". If you're not already familiar with this band and are reading this review quite by chance, then maybe this album will be your entry point into becoming a fan of one of the finest bands in extreme metal.
Highlights: The Blood Dimmed Tide, A Metaphor For The Dead, You Can't Save Me So Stop Fucking Trying, In Coelo Quies, Tout Fini Ici Bas, Todos Somos Humanos
Now although I'll happily admit the 'thrakh's sound has been on a plateau for nearly a decade, I haven't had a problem with enjoying their slightly formulaic forays into epic grindy blackened metal in this recent time of nigh on stasis. Hell is Empty, In the Constellation and Passion all featured hybrid moments of excellence and came together as fairly tasty albums in their own right.
However with Vanitas the band have reached the point where simply remaining distinct to pretty much any other entity active at the moment is no longer enough, and this latest record makes for a flaccid entry into their rapidly growing catalogue. This 'ere is an album that left me with almost nothing, no particular memorable moments other than a few what-the-farks and a decent closer, not much to headbang or make scary black metal faces to, just a bit of a wet one in general. You know when you finish a cup of tea, and there's that little bit in the bottom, and even though it's basically the same thing you've just been drinking, its gone a bit cold and you don't quite fancy it? That would be this album.
Instrumentally of course it's anything but wet. The guitars have that same malevolent keen to them, traveling from spiteful drones to blackened peels to dark and heavy chords. Precise, fast riffs are spun out one after the other, with seemingly no shortage of energy - even if the reserves of inspiration are apparently pretty dry.
The harsh vocals throughout are technically great - still diverse, disgusting and generally fucked up, but I will admit that despite my taste for Passion in general his vocal approach seems to have tailed off over the last few years, failing to nail me to my seat in horror as once it did. Maybe it is just the repeat factor.
As for the songs themselves, where are you going with 'The Blood-Dimmed Tide'? It really is a case of same old here. Three minutes of pretty obligatory sounding 'thrakh blasting that could have come from any album over the past five years. Similiarly with 'Forging Toward the Sunset' - both the grimy squeals and the barrel-chested clean vocals sound pretty good, and I even find myself quite enjoying myself while it rambles on, but there is sweet F-A in terms of memorability. I ain't coming back. There's no reason for me to sweep my grubby fingers round the dial on my iPod until it gets to this album and that song, when its title's place in the alphabetical order means that I have albums containing much better songs using essentially the same efforts from the previous few albums presenting their credentials first. If I may.
And I know it is so very fashionable to compare to nu-metal bands when you want to slag off a formerly dear underground metal band, but the opening riff from 'To Spite the Face' sounds so very much like Korn's 'Did My Time' I find myself wanting to listen to that instead. Fuck me, right?! I find myself humming along to the catchy melody in the chorus but that is very familiar too. So familiar it has been bugging me massively as to where I've heard it before. Please let me know in the comments if you do know by the way. One replay-able song for me was 'A Metaphor For The Dead'; it sounded a bit different, injecting typical 'thrakh tremolo lines into a heavy beast of a song with some astral guitar leads. The Arcturus influence is apparent but for me this doesn't spoil the song - at least it feels refreshing amongst some of the staleness wafting about on this record.
So they tentatively try a couple of new things, but these are everywhere other than the closer but misguided moments among forty minutes of morbidly retreading established habits. So 'Todos Somos Humanos' has some OK industrial flecks (albeit unoriginal), but it does very much cleave to old AN tricks again - like the music stopping and then a big ol' tortured howl before the blasts come in. Done it before mate. Even song titles seem self-parodic. 'Of Fire, and Fucking Pigs' - seems like a sort of cut-and-paste of frequently used words in their wrathful dictionary. The song itself, as well as 'You Can't Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying' are probably among the single worst things recorded by them, the latter being a total mess. The black heart is gone from the songs. This is music built on disgust, hatred and resultant wrath - and how hateful and disgusted can you really be when your band is so damn acceptable these days?
The thing is I can kind of relate with them here - where else do you go from here? This isn't a well-trodden path in magazine metal, given the band's unique approach. Going really, really industrial could have been one route, or totally stripping down their sound somehow. I don't know, they're the fucking creative force. All I'm saying is I can relate to their quandary if indeed they are aware of having one, as for you, this is the very last album by the band you should consider investing in out of their catalogue. And if you want a vision of their future, imagine a boot, being worn by me, while I'm thinking very seriously about whether or not to bother with their next record.
I've been a Nathrakh fanboy sincenot long after their inception and hold in high esteem everything they did up until Hell Is Empty, and All the Devils Are Here; with that release I found them doing little more than retreading old ground and the whole Nathrakh 'sound' started to become tired, elements of this were already becoming apparent to me on Eschaton the year before, so I stopped listening to their later efforts sticking with their earlier works. I decided to give them another try, seeing as it has been 5 years since I last heard new Nathrakh material I was interested to see how they had developed, and what do I think? Vanitas leaves me wondering how many times you can flog a dead horse.
Vanitas, whilst not unenjoyable for me was incredibly pedestrian, it feels too clean, too generic and just lacking in a certain 'something'. The album displays how little Anaal Nathrakh have come in 8 years, in fact, I would go one step further and say they have regressed if anything. Vanitas is nothing more than Kerrang or Metal Hammer 'front cover band' music, it is no longer challenging, inaccessible or original. Throughout the whole album I kept asking myself 'Where is that hate? Where is that disgust? That disgust that was so apparent on Domine Es Non Dignus, Vanitas feels like watered down Nathrakh, a shadow of its former caustic self; the album is full of Nathrakh riffs but I expect more than that, I expect difference, evolution, not just variations on a sound made famous years before, the riffs aren't even that memorable especially when compared with riffs from songs such as 'Do Not Speak' or 'When the Lion Devours Both Dragon and Child'. It feels like they are just reworking what has come before and the saddest part of this being that I hear them reworking other peoples music instead of just trying to keep in line with their own previous work (which whilst still not great is more admirable than using worn out tropes of other bands). For instance many times through the album there are parts which would not feel out of place on a Killswitch Engage or Himsa album, with the breakdown inspired 'I'm angry at my parents' sound, there is a sense of Dimmu Borgir's influence (I forget which song but one in particular made 'Progenies of the Great Apocalypse' leap to mind), lots of second-rate death metal riffs, the last song on the album sounded like little more to me than Garm era Arcturus worship, and finally the biggest comparison that leapt to mind when listening to this album was its similarity to Generator-era Aborym. This is not to say that it sounds exactly like Generator but the general mood of the album points in that direction, using some stylings on the songs that reflect Generator. Additionally there are occasional programmed dance drums parts on Vanitas that then give way to harsher drums and guitar lines but they are programmed very poorly, there is no depth to them and it is normally only one texture, which makes it pale in comparison to nearly any other industrial black metal band who take the time to craft their electronic sound to a more EBM/Trance/Electronic ideal. This for me is a major falling point for this album mainly because Mick Kenney was involved with Aborym's With No Human Intervention nearly a decade before Vanitas and he has done nothing with Vanitas to show an evolution or change in industrial black metal since that period, to be condescending: He should know better!
The electronic influence on the album is mild and barely felt, which basically means it's superfluous and a small part of me can't help but wonder if it is Mick Kenney trying to ride the wave of the popularity of the Americanised version of dub-step, i.e. Skrillex and Korn's latest efforts which seem to be penetrating the Yank metal market quite pervasively. Call me cynical but Mick likes the limelight, this can be witnessed through so many of his bands which he has tried to grab centre-stage with: Mistress, Fukpig, Exploder (probably the most blatant attempt) and then when these failed Nathrakh became the exploited, as can easily be seen with the shift they made from Eschaton to Hell Is Empty.
Musically the album isn't constructed badly, the guitar and bass work as always is executed very well, the drum programming is nigh-on indistinguishable from human playing, Dave Cunt's vocals are varied and powerful although the album is desperately lacking the soaring clean vocal lines that made Nathrakh such a beauty before, and the production on the album is very clean and crisp. Vanitas just ends up feeling a bit forced, with the vocals lacking the maniacal zeal I have come to expect from Dave Cunt (aka V.I.T.R.I.O.L) (I just don't hear any passion in his sermons on this release) and the production quality lacking the layer of filth that should accompany such 'supposed' hate, they say it's grindcore and black metal; genres not known for crystal clear clarity, I want grime, I want filth, I want nastiness and Vanitas just doesn't deliver for me on that front.
I've felt this way for a while about Nathrakh and this release has cemented that belief in me, they are planning to be nothing more than something more 'extreme' than your average metalcore/deathcore crap, they want to be posterboys with Behemoth and Dimmu Borgir so kids can show their parents how evil and 'alternative' minded they are, whilst Nathrakh turn out more dross every year to sate the masses yet not actually providing any sustenance or substance in their works. What a shame to see a band with such promise fall so far, time to listen to The Codex Necro and remember the 'glory days'.
(Originally written for baileysmmcreamy.blogspot.com)
Anaal Nathrakh's seventh release, Vanitas, is a promising thrust in a different direction, but it's not everything that it could have been. Parts of the album are nothing short of brilliant, but they are often lost in the muddle and confusion of Anaal Nathrakh's signature sonic attack.
I will qualify this review by saying that after last year's somewhat disappointing Passion, I wasn't quite sure whether Vanitas would follow in a similar vein, or if these guys would try something different. However, after hearing Forging Towards the Sunset, this album's leading single, I had high hopes for this album. The song was just as heavy as ever, but had elements that I either hadn't heard before, or were being used in different ways. For one, these guys were sounding more melodic than ever before, and the operatic clean vocals (something I'm a fan of) were better than they'd ever been. After listening to the album, these things still stand true for several songs, including To Spite the Face (my personal favorite of the album), You Can't Save Me, So Stop Fucking Trying, and Feeding the Beast. The chorus sections felt like more than simply an afterthought, and there are even a few well-placed breakdown sections in some of these songs. Now, usually when I think breakdown, I think of "teh br00talz" deathcore crap, but instead of solely relying on breakdowns, these songs simply incorporate short passages that improve the song and make headbanging a little easier. However, much of the album flies by without grabbing the attention. I found myself not even realizing a new track had started a couple of times, and some truly interesting music came a little few and far between. If these guys had focused a little more on what they did with Forging Towards the Sunset and To Spite the Face, this album might have been a little better. Too many of the songs fly by without much variation, an a couple of songs, such as Make Glorious the Embrace of Saturn and In Coelo Quies, Tout Finis Ici Bas, feel like straight grindcore, except stretched out twice as long as they should be.
One of my main complaints with Passion was that it simply lacked its namesake for much of the album. This, however, was avoided on Vanitas. The music often straddles "In the Constellation..." territory and also has some of the gritty, fiery feel of earlier releases such as Eschaton and Domine Non Es Dignus. One of my complaints, however, is that the production feels a little bit too sterile and digitized, giving it a very flat tone. The guitars, however, have a very distinct "buzzing" quality which I enjoy, almost like a chainsaw filtered through a computer and then through a stack of amplifiers. The drums, while very obviously triggered, sound tight and punchy, and Dave Hunt's vocals sound like they always do, hateful, anguished and terrifying.
In all, the album is an above-average effort from Anaal Nathrakh. It's not their very best, but it's an improvement from Passion and sits pretty well with me. If you're an Anaal Nathrakh fan, then you should have this in your collection and will probably enjoy it quite a bit. If you're new to this band, skip this and try In the Constellation of the Black Widow or The Codex Necro instead.
Entering Anaal Nathrakh madmen’s world is a risk for anyone trying. Their music is a pure psychotic violence manifest and it’s difficult to recover from it. My personal experience with this band begins with Eschaton and I’m still wearing scars. Their unique blend of death / black / grindcore / industrial may in fact cause permanent brain damage, particularly in the aggression controlling lobe.
However, over time, Irrumator (instruments) and V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (Voice) added melodic elements to their compositions, which were virtually absent until then. Already in 2007, Hell Is Empty and All the Devils Are Here included several songs with catchy riffs and soaring epic passages, quite unusual for such an extreme band. I admit, however, having been less enthusiastic about their following two albums, especially Passion that left me almost indifferent. So it’s without expectation I bought Vanitas, already the seventh full-length of this Birmingham's prolific duo.
It is difficult to express in words the punch in the face I received when I first heard this record. From first listen, I’m blown away by the uninhibited mastery spread by its authors. Entire song writing is based on an almost surreal balance between disjointed aggression and immediately memorable melodies. Group members also seem to have finally given up the endless syncopated sequences that made their previous albums so difficult. They – somehow – put order into chaos, in a register very close to what a band like Strapping Young Lad used to play.
While I criticized previous albums for their extreme confusion, Vanitas is instead remarkably homogeneous. Each song is perfectly connected, without breaking rhythm or slowdown, except – perhaps – the slowest Feeding the Beast, which provides an illusory rest between detonations. I also note a better use of vocal registers. Long and grandiloquent clear voice passages are better distributed and, most importantly, better controlled, especially on A Metaphor for the Dead, where the clean voiced sections add a strong epic dimension to the song.
I address this message to wet blankets who might claim that Anaal Nathrakh sold its soul to attract a wider audience: Vanitas is an almost flawless album and the band is unleashing hell towards the listener. It can be now compared to some British legends such as Extreme Noise Terror, Napalm Death and Carcass. This record will undoubtedly cause a new wave of murderous psychosis among their most devoted fans. 9/10
Originally written for Métal Obscur.